Peter Jay Sharp Theater, New York City
June 2, 2018
As the graduation season approaches it’s the time for the spring performances of the top ballet schools and conservatoires, and a chance to try and spot some future stars. First up and across the ‘pond’ is this year’s Workshop Performances of the School of American Ballet, the official academy of New York City Ballet, at Lincoln Center’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater. As is usual at SAB, the programme featured only well-known ballets danced largely by the senior students: George Balanchine’s La Source and Western Symphony, sandwiching Justin Peck’s In Creases. The youngsters got a brief look in with Jerome Robbins’ Circus Polka.
La Source is a Balanchine homage to French romanticism, but while it has touches of that style and aura, it is very much a 20th-century American ballet. It is classical through and through, the lack of narrative and scenery, and the small cast, allow for no hiding place.
In this condensed version (minus one of the pas de deux and some of the ensemble work), particularly impressive was the long-limbed Naomi Corti, always at one with the music, and who sparkled throughout. Corti is one of this year’s winners of SAB’s Mae L. Wien Awards for Outstanding Promise, and it’s easy to see why. In the pas de deux, Mia Domini was elegant and technically strong even if there wasn’t much sense of Frenchness. Her partner Jules Mabie was largely solid and secure, but there were one or two blips, and it was a shame the dive and catch at the end of the pas de deux erred rather on the safe side. All very ably backed up by the corps of eight women.
The students looked much more at home with the angular limbs and lines of In Creases, Justin Peck’s first work for New York City Ballet, made in 2012, two years before his appointment as resident choreographer. Set to the first and third movements of Philip Glass’ Four Movements for Two Pianos, played live on stage by Elaine Chelton and Alan Moverman, it remains one of his more interesting ballets and an early demonstration of just how good he is at ensemble work. The ballet is rammed with interesting moments, the ensemble opening like a flower, and dancers running through the human obstacle course made by the outstretched legs of others. Within the group, constantly changing partnerships shift seamlessly from the usual male-female to all-male or all-female. A winner all round.
As mildly diverting as Robbins’ Circus Polka is, it doesn’t sit particularly comfortably in a programme that otherwise looks and feels like it’s by a fully professional company. Still, it does give the parents of 48 of SAB female students aged 9 to 13 a chance to see their children on stage, here all commanded by Ringmaster, Arch Higgins. The ballet variously finishes with the initials of Balanchine, Lincoln Kirstein or Igor Stravinsky, depending on the occasion, but this year it was ‘JR’ in tribute to the 100th anniversary of the birth of its creator.
The Workshop closed with Western Symphony, Balanchine’s high-spirited hoe-down and tribute to the American West with a hum-along Hershey Kay score derived from folk songs. With its cast of 30, including different leads in each movement, it’s perfect school performance material. The students took to it with great zest and energy, all looking totally at home in their various roles.
The ballet got off to a cracking start with Lily Zerivitz and Davide Riccardo (another Mae L Win Award winner – the third was Julianne Kinasiewicz) in the allegro. Zerivitz flirted teasingly with her partner, while he showed great confidence as he sauntered around, not to mention excellent elevation and clean landings in his jumps.
The laidback rhinestone cowboy of the adagio is undoubtedly the trickiest role for young dancers. It is so easy to go all out for laughs rather than letting the situation and choreography do much of the work. Under his sequined white outfit, Lajeromeny Brown got it pretty close to spot on, though, partnered by the delightful Malorie Lundgren.
The humour in the upbeat rondo is helped along by traditionally casting a tall woman with a short man, and SAB did just that with Ally Helman and pocket dynamo KJ Takahashi (still only 16), who wowed everyone with his leaps, fast footwork and, perhaps more than anything, his easy-going charm and winning smile.
It was a grand way to round off an enjoyable and fun afternoon. For the dancers, now off across Lincoln Center to NYCB, or to other companies across America and the world, new challenges and new adventures await. I, for one, look forward to watching their progress.